New cookbook empowers people with disabilities

IOWA CITY — Sarah Riesz stands in front of the stove, a spatula in her hand. She watches as turkey burgers sizzle in the skillet. An apple sits on the cutting board nearby, along with a can of corn.

This is Sarah’s lunch, the meal she will cook and eat before leaving for her afternoon job at MidWestOne Bank. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. And, yet, it’s special.

Sarah, 38, has Down syndrome.

She started working with her parents, Iowa City West High School teachers and staff from Life Skills, Inc. to learn how to cook healthy and nutritious meals more than 20 years ago.

“Weight management is a big issue with Down syndrome,” says Elizabeth Riesz, Sarah’s mother. “I knew, when Sarah moved out of our home, that she needed to know how to cook nutritious meals if she was going to continue to eat healthy.”

Riesz worked with the special education staff at West to develop simple recipes for Sarah and her classmates. The recipes ultimately became the inspiration for “Let’s Cook: Healthy Meals for Independent Living,” a new cookbook geared to individuals with disabilities.

The book is authored by Riesz and Anne Kissack, an arthritis coordinator for the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center.

Kissack worked with the recipes as part of her master’s in public health project at the University of Iowa.

“The developmental disability community really does have few resources in nutritional information and cooking that aren’t kids’ recipes,” Kissack says.

The full-color cookbook includes more than 50 recipes. It also addresses nutrition information, portion size, meal planning, kitchen and food safety, including rules for leftovers. Recipes include reminders to wash hands and dispose of trash.

“There’s so many things that people (with disabilities) have to learn that we take for granted,” Riesz says.

The recipes are written in simple step-by-step instructions with some photo illustrations. Each recipe has a picture of the finished dish — both alone and as part of a balanced meal.

The recipes are accompanied by the United States Department of Agriculture food pyramid and a dinner plate graphic, illustrating the components of a balanced meal.

“One of the biggest goals of the cookbook was to do meal planning and provide those tools, not just for the individuals, but for the staff at a group home, too,” Kissack says

Recipes were tested by individuals with disabilities for taste and ease of preparation.

“The focus group told us they did not want a children’s cookbook,” Riesz says. “There are things available for people who need simple cookbooks, but as far as we know, this is the first geared specifically to this population.”

That doesn’t mean others won’t find it helpful. While the book is geared to individuals with developmental disabilities, who have some reading ability, reviewers have suggested other audiences, including English language learners, senior adults needing explicit instructions and first-time cooks.

“It’s real food and appealing meals,” Kissack says.

Recipes from “Let’s Cook: Healthy Meals for Independent Living"

Turkey Burger

1/2 pound extra lean ground turkey

1 tablespoon dry onion soup mix

2 green onions

1/4 cup sliced mushrooms, prepackaged (optional)

2 whole wheat hamburger buns

Non-stick cooking spray

Mustard, pickles, lettuce, other condiments (optional)

1. Wash my hands. Put strainer in sink.

2. Spray skillet with cooking spray.

3. Measure mushrooms. Put in strainer. Add green onions to strainer. Rinse under cold running water.

4. On cutting board, cut green onions into small pieces with a sharp knife.

5. Add to bowl: ground turkey, mushrooms, green onions and onion soup mix.

6. Throw away meat wrapper. Wash my hands.

7. Mix well with fork.

8. Use two hands to shape turkey mixture into two patties. Place patties in skillet. Place skillet on stove. Wash my hands. Set timer for five minutes. Cook patties on medium heat.

9. When timer goes off, use turner to flip patty. Set timer for six minutes. Cook.

10. When timer goes off, press patty with turner. If juices are pink, cook for four minutes more. If juices are clear, turn off heat. Use a meat thermometer. Wash my hands.

11. Lift each patty with turner. Put on a bun. Top each patty with mustard, pickle and lettuce, if desired. Serve and enjoy.

This recipe makes two servings; 1 serving is a three ounce turkey burger with bun.

Confetti Corn

1 egg

2 tablespoons soft-tub margarine

1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium whole kernel corn

2 tablespoons pimento (1/2 of 2-ounce jar)

1/2 can crispy fried onions (1.5 ounces)

Dash pepper

Non-stick cooking spray

1. Wash my hands. Preheat over to 325 degrees. Place strainer in sink.

2. Spray baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

3. Break egg in bowl. Throw shells in trash. Wash my hands.

4. Beat egg with fork until bubbly. Set aside.

5. Open corn with can opener. Pour corn into strainer to drain.

6. Place baking dish near sink. Pour corn into baking dish.

7. Add to corn: egg, margarine, pimento, dash pepper. Mix with wooden spoon.

8. Shake fried onions on top.

9. Cover baking dish with lid. Place in oven. Wash my hands. Set timer for 35 minutes.

10. Turn off oven. Carefully remove from oven with oven mitt and potholder. Serve and enjoy.

This recipe makes four servings; 1 serving is a 1/2 cup.Recipes printed as they appear in “Let’s Cook: Healthy Meals for Independent Living” by Elizabeth Riesz and Anne Kissack. The book is available for purchase at Iowa Book and Supply, Prairie Lights Books and Wild Rose Bookshop in the main lobby of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It also is available online at

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